More than 13,800 low-income students in 58 schools in eight New Jersey cities are expected to have a better chance to get into college over the next six years with the help of a program funded with $47.9 million, will be continued because New Jersey was awarded a federal grant, state Acting Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks announced Friday.
The state government obtained $23.9 million in federal funding to participate in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program over the next six years. The remaining $24 million will come from matching contributions provided by New Jersey colleges participating in the program.
In the first year, $6.3 million will help 2,300 low income students in Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Bridgeton, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Trenton.
New Jersey is one of 19 states to receive GEAR UP funding this year. The U.S. Department of Education received 296 applications and 66—or 22 percent—were funded.
"At a time when national attention is focused on getting all students ready for college and careers, we are pleased to have secured the funding that will enable us to help more at-risk students than ever before," Hendricks said.
The GEAR UP program identifies children as young as the sixth grade who may have difficulty getting into college. Students benefit from after-school and Saturday tutoring, summer programs, mentoring, counseling and test preparation. They receive information about financial aid, make college visits and learn the importance of taking rigorous high school courses to prepare for postsecondary education.
Last year NJ GEAR UP students scored an average of 70 points higher on the math section of the SAT and 50 points higher on the verbal section of the 2010 SAT than the average reported scores of students in the same high schools, Hendricks said.
Hendricks said she was pleased that New Jersey will be able to expand the program to help hundreds of new students.
"New Jersey's GEAR UP program will focus on 40 middle schools and 18 high schools in eight of the state's most distressed communities," Hendricks said. "This is a significant expansion of a program New Jersey has offered for the past 12 years."
The grant will also provide professional development and training for teachers, administrators and counselors in the target districts.
Previously, 1,500 students each year from Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Trenton benefited from the GEAR UP program. The new aid will enable the state to expand the program to serve an additional 800 students annually in Atlantic City, Bridgeton and Pleasantville.
The target schools' average SAT scores are more than 100 points lower on each section than statewide averages. Annual dropout rates are eight times higher than the state average, and their enrollment in advanced placement courses is 50 percent lower than average.
"There is evidence that early intervention and intensive counseling can make a significant difference in the education of low-income students," Hendricks said. "We are celebrating this significant victory for New Jersey today because it will enable us to make a real difference in the lives of more than 13,800 students."
Colleges providing services to students include New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University, New Jersey City University and the community colleges of Passaic, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Mercer counties.
Schools that will be helped by the GEAR UP program are:
Atlantic City/Pleasantville: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School; Pleasantville Middle School; Sovereign Avenue School; Uptown School Complex; Atlantic City High School and Pleasantville High School.
Bridgeton: Broad Street Elementary; Buckshutem Road; Cherry Street; ExCel Indian Avenue; Quarter Mile Lane School; West Avenue and Bridgeton High School.